What’s a Loungefly? That’s a question that’s not so easy to answer, according to Loungefly Director of Marketing and Social Ilana McBride. During this year’s Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC), the Pop Insider stopped by Funkoville to chat with McBride about the lifestyle company’s massive growth, unique approach to fandom accessories, and more!
The Pop Insider: Obviously Loungefly has grown so much in recent years. How would you say it has evolved, and how would you describe Loungefly now in terms of its brand identity?
Ilana McBride: So about a year and a half ago is when I came on. And I first started asking anybody who worked there — which was, you know, not a ton of people — “So what is Loungefly, literally? What is a Loungefly? Who came up with that name?” And nobody can answer that question, by the way. It turned into an April Fool’s joke, where we designed a backpack that was a lounging fly. Anyway, I digress. So I really like came in to say, “What is Loungefly, and let’s define that.” So from a marketing perspective, that was my first goal. Like, honing in on what this brand is and all the things that our creative team has already done and been so, so successful at with their crazy innovation. And I just kind of said, “Are we just a backpack company? Are we the theme park company? What are we?” And so then we started really figuring out that this is a lifestyle brand. That fashion is about expressing something, expressing yourself. And this is expressing your fandom on your sleeve, on your back, on your lapel with our pins. We introduced recently our apparel line.
PI: Stitch Shoppe?
IM: Well, now we have additional apparel in our casual lines. So Stitch Shoppe exists on its own as our sort of higher-end, brunch lady, vintage styles. But our Loungefly apparel sits under the Loungefly label and is really about, you know, your casual self, who’s just running to the supermarket, just like you would with your backpack. So we’re really trying to hone in on what does it mean to have a Loungefly lifestyle and express your fandom in your everyday wear? So to see that growth and to see, now, fans reacting to that and saying, “I’m a Loungefly girl.” And there’s quotes of, like, “Live, Laugh, Loungefly,” and so many things that people are adding to the zeitgeist of Loungefly. So really seeing that evolution has been great and feels good from my perspective because I’m, like, people are catching on to what we’re trying to do here.
PI: How would you say that the apparel offered by Loungefly stands apart from other fandom apparel?
IM: So you’re really getting that same great quality that fans rely on in Loungefly. Even down to — on the apparel, we have like tags that have the “LF,” just like our backpacks. People, you know, covet that Loungefly plaque. It’s like the Gucci label. And so we really have brought that into the apparel. We’ve got hoodies that have drawstrings that you can actually collect your pins on. So it’s really meant to be a cross-category type of thing. Fans really, really see the tie-in. It’s not just, oh, they make Disney T-shirts now. It’s like, oh, this makes sense. This is Loungefly. It maps back to the cross-body bag they just released with the collectible pin they just released and really shows a full collection as opposed to just, “Here’s some apparel.”
PI: I’ve also noticed that, especially in the backpack line, but across Loungefly, you’ve really started getting into some deeper cut licenses, the same way that Funko’s Pop! line does. Can you talk to me a little bit, from both the fan and backend licensing perspectives, about how that came to be, why that’s important to offer, and why that’s something Loungefly prioritizes?
IM: We actually see fans respond much better to those tertiary characters and the more obscure moments in films than we do a brand-new film. So we actually hardly ever, except for maybe in retailer exclusives, have a backpack that is specific to the film that’s releasing at the moment. There might be one, but not a full collection, because we really feel like fans want a Nana backpack from Peter Pan that’s plush more than they would want, I don’t know, the entire cast of Turning Red right now. Although our Turning Red panda backpack did do extremely well and is so cute.
So from a licensing perspective, we always wanna try to keep up with what our licensors want from us, but give the fans what they want. Like you said, Funko does that often in getting to, you know, those deep cuts. And now we know that fans have really responded super well to us doing that, too. And it helps build your collection of Loungefly, right? If you’ve got the other three Peter Pan bags, why wouldn’t you also add the Nana bag? And it’s really sort of getting them the thing they never knew they needed.
And with new licenses, same thing, Lisa Frank is something that we’re offering soon. And so for a Disney fan to say, “Oh my god, I didn’t know I needed a Lisa Frank collection, but that ’90s nostalgia is so on brand for me.” It’s our way of expanding our customers to not just say, “Okay, well I only need my one backpack.” We’ve got Friends coming up. We’re doing a lot more.
And as new shows come about, like Stranger Things — A year ago, we didn’t really plan for that much Stranger Things. We kind of just said, “Oh, we’ll just have this one collection. Sure.” Now Stranger Things is huge and we have so much Stranger Things on the way. But also, now we know we have this TV fan base. Let’s go after new licenses that are just focused on TV. Disney will always hold true to our heart and be our bread and butter, but we’ve now expanded so much that it’s no longer making up a majority of our business. So it’s really fun to see that as new things get made, new Loungefly get made.
PI: I feel like there’s so much Loungefly stuff coming out constantly. How do you balance keeping the fans updated with all of these new releases?
IM: I mean, we are a social media-bred company, and because our products really lend themselves to beautiful photos, really living that lifestyle and seeing somebody who looks like you. We’re all about inclusivity, and that’s size inclusivity, that’s pricing. Everything about us is about making sure that we feel like you understand we are fans behind the product just like you, and it feels very relevant. So it’s making sure that that word gets out on various platforms across social. And we’ve got press now. That was a new thing introduced, like, just a year ago. So these are all new marketing channels that just opened up over the last year. And so we’ve obviously seen tremendous growth just from opening the flood gates.
PI: None of the Loungefly bags are just putting an image on a bag. What is the development process like when working with your licensing partners? Are they pitching these like kind of fun, off-the-wall ideas, is Loungefly, pitching them, or is it a collaborative combination?
IM: So it definitely starts pretty collaborative, but we have some of the best artists. I mean, we’re at San Diego Comic-Con and we have some of the best, best artists here. We’ve pulled artists from conventions. We have our creative team literally scouting all the time for new artists. And so we’ll see a style guide asset from a license and we might use, like, a piece here and a piece there. But then our licensors really trust us and trust our ability to not flex too far, but to still maintain the integrity of their characters and their stories. And that’s something that they don’t really do with any other licenses.
PI: That’s why it’s so fascinating to me. Because I talk with so many companies that do licensed products and I know how stringent it can be, but then some of the things Loungefly comes out with are what fans want. And it’s so hard to get that stuff. Like, I have the Captain America floral collection backpack. And I love it, but there’s no other official Cap merch that looks like that.
IM: I mean, our creative team is insane. Liz, who is our vice president of creative, she leads the team and is always thinking like, “Well, there’s already Captain America out there. But what about something, like, a little more feminine? Or maybe, okay, we think of Captain America as all-American. What’s American? Oh, denim would be a good translation to that. Let’s try a different, you know, fabrication.” And really just trying to think holistically of like, “Okay, we’ve given our customer this. Now let’s try this.” We are a company of throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what hits and misses and, generally, it hits. And that’s great.
Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.